By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK Speculation that the Finnish Embassy in Windhoek is about to pack up and go and sever diplomatic ties with the country were on Friday officially dispelled as rumours by the project manager of the embassy. Elise Heikkinen was addressing a group of representatives of civil society organizations financially supported by the Finnish embassy. It was the first time that the community representatives from 30 Finnish-financed organizations were brought together to exchange ideas about closer co-operation among themselves. “Finnish government aid is coming to an end, but not support for civil society organizations. The embassy is only physically relocating itself from the Sanlam Building in early July to other premises used by the Royal Netherlands embassy,” said Elise Heikkinen in a short press statement after the one-day workshop at the Hotel School of the Polytechnic of Namibia. “We would like to see the Finnish embassy as a partner and not a donor that supports meritorious Namibian civil society initiatives such as fighting AIDS, promoting Namibian culture, tourism and small business enterprises. We see all these societal bodies as long-term partners. This workshop is primarily aimed at sharing ideas and better cooperation among yourselves,” said Heikkinen She said it was important for the organizations her embassy is financing to know what each one does to improve the lives of Namibians in the sector they operate in. “As partners it is important that we collectively plan our programs in order to prevent overlapping and duplication. Interaction is of the utmost importance for the smooth running of projects aimed at uplifting the Namibian people. The organizations need to adjust to unexpected changes confronting them with regard to budgeting and capacity building. According to her the Finnish government intends eventually phasing out long-term grant schemes as part of bilateral agreements. “These bilateral agreements have to a large extent focused on tourism and economic relations between Namibia and Finland. Regarding the civil society organizations, there’s nothing sinister about looking at alternative ways of obtaining funding from other sources. In fact it is a health situation not to be perpetually dependent in Finnish funding alone,” she told those present at the one-day workshop. Present were organizations such as Sister Namibia, Katutura Community Radio, Assitej-Namibia, Namibia Institute for Democracy, NABCOBTA and others. “We are presently looking at new ways and measures for local co-operation with regard to civil society, human rights, culture and gender equality. This is aimed at strengthening the Namibian cultural identity through stronger linkages between the public and private institutions in both our countries,” Heikkinen said. However, she did warn that Finnish financial support to civil society organizations is expected to decrease over the next three years, a big concern for all the organizations presently supported by the Finnish embassy.
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